Examining the Metro Prior to Free Agency
As fans head to the beach, NHL General Managers will hit the phones this Friday as free agency opens up July 1st.
Last year, we saw 248 free agents ink deals in the offseason. This year, we are looking at 259 unrestricted free agents, many of which will put on a different sweater come October. Let’s take a look at the state of the Metropolitan division and examine each team’s current roster going heading into the ever-exciting free agent frenzy.
New York Rangers
For the Rangers, fans and self-proclaimed general managers everywhere will read off a long laundry list of ideas, rumors and pipe dreams for the team this offseason. As a disclaimer, the purpose of this post is NOT to debate what the Rangers should do. But rather, it is to outline the current situation of the team.
First, the NYR have several restricted free agents who must be dealt with. For a full synopsis of what contracts these names may command, visit my previous post HERE. On paper, the ~$17 million in cap space looks like a fair amount of money to play with. However, after Gorton addresses the RFA’s, the Ranger’s will have in the neighborhood of $5 million (IF all are resigned) to fill several holes.
The most apparent necessity is defense. Currently manned by the captain and weighed down by two regressing players in Staal and Girardi, the blueline needs a makeover. Moreover, the loss of Yandle makes this group a primary focus before October. Recent suspicion includes moving on from Girardi, Staal, or both. Should these rumors be fulfilled, a new-look blueline may await in 2017. Regardless, all fans can look forward to seeing the promising 21-year-old Skjei in a full-time spot next year.
Based on Gorton’s comments on break-up day, defense won’t be the only area we find new faces next season. Depending on the RFA outcomes, the Rangers may have more, or less available cash to play with. Furthermore, seemingly every reporter, beat-writer, blogger, and fan around the league expects the Rangers to make some sort of trade this summer. In fact, many expected one, or many, moves to occur before the end of the draft, but this was not the case aside from acquiring 29 year old defenseman, Nick Holden for a pick from Colorado. The most popular names are Nash and Stepan, although there are very few players which are “safe”. Should one of the expected blockbusters occur, it will be aimed at getting younger, cheaper assets in return. This is where things get interesting.
As all sports fans know, most New York teams do not sit quietly in free agency. The Rangers are one of these teams and if the capital is available, they will make a strong push at the most sought after prize each year. This offseason, teams are fortunate enough to have the ability to bid for one of the best goal scorers in the league in Steven Stamkos. We can all expect the Rangers to throw everything they can at Stamkos if they are able to free-up the necessary cap room.
I fully expect a trade of some magnitude to occur involving the Rangers in the near future. Gorton will look to live up to his predecessor, Glen Sather, who lived and died by offseason splashes. Jeff was dealt a tough hand which includes many overpaid, underperforming players. Putting together a cup-contending team is a very steep task, and RangersTown will not go quietly if Gorton doesn’t take the appropriate steps in that direction.
Here’s the rest of the Metro.
The Hurricanes ended the year with 86 points, good for 6th in the Metro and a 15-point improvement from the previous season. The ‘Canes youth gives a bright future for its fans, with playmakers such as Skinner, Rask and Lindholm all under 23 years of age. On the defensive side, Hanifin, Faulk and Pesce are three young anchors a franchise can build around. With more than $24 million in cap space, Carolina has the capacity to scoop-up numerous assets before October. The team’s primary need is goal scoring, in hopes to improve the 27th best offense in the league from 2016. Additionally, the team may be in search of a number-one goaltender, with Lack currently an UFA and the aging Ward entering his eleventh season.
Columbus regressed in 2016, arguably one of the most disappointing teams of the year. CBJ opened the season 0-7 and finished last in the Metro with 76 points, compared to a promising 89-point campaign in 2015. The team’s 17th best offense was unable to counteract an abysmal defense which gave up the most goals in the division (252 – 29th overall). With less than $4 million in available space, the Blue Jackets will be hard-pressed to make any significant moves. Rather, look for the team to turn to its prospect pool, which helped capture the 2016 Calder Cup, for help at NHL level next year.
The Devils finished the season with 84 points and 7th in the Metro, the same slot they found themselves in 2015. Led by stellar goaltending by Schneider, NJD finished in the upper third in goals against, but last in goals for. New Jersey has $29 million in cap space and only eleven players from last year’s squad under contract. Thus, the Devils will have to be active this offseason and add to their current roster of 4 d-men and 5 forwards. Moreover, the Devils do have a few young talents which will likely earn a roster spot this season.
New York Islanders
Our rivals from Brooklyn tallied 100 points in 2016, one less than the Rangers and good for the fourth-best finish in the Metropolitan. Despite a changeover of starting goalies, the Isles were 13th in the league in GA and 10th in GF, thanks to a 70-point season by Tavares. A number of expiring contracts (Okposo, Nielson, Martin, etc.) helped free-up a hefty $15 million in cap. As a result, many have associated the team as a contender to land the top-prize this offseason, Steven Stamkos. In theory, this does hold water as the team has 9 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goalies rostered, likely making $15 million enough to sign Stamkos and fill out the remaining roster. Regardless, the Islanders will have little trouble finding the cash to sign an impact forward and fill out their bottom line depth this offseason.
The Flyers snuck into the postseason last year, ending 5th in the Metro with 96 points. Notably, Shayne Gostisbehere, a 22-year-old defensemen, finished 5th on the team in points and emerged a fan-favorite in Philadelphia. 22nd in goals for and 15th in goals against, Philly will spend its available $11 million mostly on the offensive side of the roster. With Giroux and Couturier down the middle and Voracek, Simmonds, Rafl and Read on the wing, Philly should look to add a top-6 name and strengthen the 3rd and 4th lines.
The hottest team in hockey deservedly won the 2016 Stanley Cup. Jim Rutherford put a bomb-squad together that came together with the help of Mike Sullivan to win it all last year. 3rd in the league in goals for and 6th in goals against, the Pens ended the regular season with 104 points. With virtually zero cap space, Pittsburgh will not be a player in the free agent market. However, with Lovejoy and Cullen the only full-time players listed as UFA’s, there is little reason to expect any maneuvering prior to the 2017 season.
The Capitals 2016 campaign was an impressive one, putting up 120 points and capturing the Presidents Trophy. However, the curse of “winning” the regular season moved on, as the 2008 Red Wings remain the last team to win the Presidents and Stanley Cups. 2nd in goals for and goals against, there are few areas the Caps can look to for areas of needed improvement. Chimera, Richards and Weber are free agents, giving the team nearly $11 million to fill out its roster.
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